Writing Home is a series where Philly tech expats write to us of their new lives. Wanna write one? Email editor Juliana Reyes at firstname.lastname@example.org
“I want warmer weather, and I wouldn’t turn away a beach ;)”
I wrote this in an email to a friend in January 2015. She’d bounced around the country for different jobs, and I was looking for advice. After almost 28 years in Philadelphia, the urge to leave and experience a new place was growing. And while the timing felt right, I wasn’t drawn to any one city in particular.
Less than seven months after hitting “Send,” I accepted a job a thousand miles away in St. Petersburg, Fla.
I was born and raised in Northeast Philadelphia in a predominately Catholic, middle-class neighborhood. With the exception of a short stint abroad, I had lived in Philly my whole life.
I graduated from Temple University in 2009. Armed with a bachelor’s in journalism, I took a writing class in New York and began freelancing. In 2010, I began working at a small, family-owned healthcare publication. For three years, I interviewed people in scrubs, edited news articles, co-managed social media and — best of all — exhibited at different industry conferences across the U.S.
I knew developing my skillset in technology was essential for career longevity. So, I accepted a new role at SEMrush, a digital marketing suite, and began dipping my toes in the burgeoning local tech scene. After working my 9-to-5, I’d drive to the Cornwells Heights Station and take the R7 into the city for various meetups.
A technology career doesn't have to begin and end with programming.
A defining moment came when I stumbled across Technical.ly Philly’s tweet about the first Women in Tech Summit. I scanned the event website and read about the accomplished women who would be speaking, stunned to find so many of them had unconventional, non-tech backgrounds.
I bought a ticket and it opened my eyes to the possibilities of a career in technology: one that didn’t have to begin and end with programming, like I had long associated. For the next couple years, I started a handful of WordPress blogs, became a member of Girl Develop It Philly, took web development courses and even TA-ed an Intro to HTML and CSS class.
In August 2015, I accepted a position at The Penny Hoarder, a media startup in St. Petersburg. A year later, The Penny Hoarder was recognized by the Inc. 5000 as the fastest-growing private media company in America. I’m an analytics wrangler and editor, making the transition to content marketing. My coworkers are a hardworking and data-driven bunch, and they smile whenever I say “wooder.”
St. Petersburg feels like the least Florida-like city in the state (#SorryNotSorry, Florida). It’s progressive. It’s LGBTQ-friendly. It’s walkable and bikeable. It has shoebox-sized bars and restaurants where, a few times, the waitstaff has stopped to shake my hand and engage me in conversation. It’s small-business-friendly, and with a lower cost of living, I can shop local without breaking the bank.
In my neighborhood, the streets are brick-paved and lined with palm trees. I’m less than 10 minutes from downtown and 15 away from the closest beach. St. Petersburg, once nicknamed “God’s waiting room,” is youthful, eclectic and booming, with a little-big town feel.
While I adore my adopted city, I miss Philly’s strong tech community. The first WordPress meetup I attended here had about 10 people, which the organizer sincerely described as a big turnout. It’s a big difference from the ones I used to attend where attendees would sometimes spill out the door.
I’m finding communities of interest; it’s just taking a little longer. In the meantime, my boyfriend and I helped cofound a sports group for other Philly transplants, which multiplied each week this past Eagles season. These people are some of my closest friends here.
I still go home for holidays and trips down the shore. The best part about returning to Philly is seeing family and friends and playing tourist — I go somewhere new each time I’m back in town.
People are impressed down here when I mention where I’m from, and rightfully so: Philly is an incredible city.